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All downhill from here

09 Feb 2022 | News Roundup

The New York Times “Climate Fwd.” runs a touching feature on West Windsor, VT, rocked by the closure of the local ski resort “because of erratic snowfall and mismanagement”, whose plucky inhabitants responded by creating “a model for how a small ski area and its community can thrive in the era of climate change” that replaced bad private enterprise with good government and downhill skiing with mountain biking, endurance running and… um… downhill skiing. Actually there’s no less snow there than there ever was. Still, beware, because “A 2019 study showed that in northeastern states besides Vermont, at least half of ski areas will close by the mid 2050s if high greenhouse gas emissions continue.” Yeah, we heard that one before. So a modern news story doesn’t describe something that happened, or even check if it did. Instead it describes something that the writer thinks should have happened and some scientists say eventually will except it’s a scientifically impossible scenario. And they wonder why their circulation is falling faster than snow in a Vermont winter.

In case anyone at the paper still remembers when fact-checking meant checking facts not censoring opinions, the study in question wasn’t even published in 2019. It was published in 2017. And it’s remarkably coy about details like whether RCP 8.5 is lurking amid the moguls. Instead it basically looked at a bunch of papers saying climate change would wipe out skiing and found a strong tendency for them to say skiing would be wiped out by climate change. And also that papers saying climate change will wipe out skiing are a growth industry, in case you’re on the scrounge for a grant in order to study vital questions like whether skiers are unhappy if there’s not enough snow.

Incredibly, they are. The researchers “found that in general demand related to ski lifts (e.g. revenues, skier days, number of transported people) is more sensitive to a lack of snow than overnight stays.” And no sum is too high for that kind of insight.

Speaking of insights, an accompanying Times piece describes one enthusiastic skier at the tiptop of Mt. Ascutney pointing to other snow-covered peaks with ski resorts and lamenting that more than a decade ago they would get lots of snow and it would “just bypass Ascutney. We couldn’t win”. Put that together with the fact that bad management closed the resort and you get… nothing. Not a decrease in snow. Not a hit of climate change. Not even an estimate of when it hit. Was it already causing less snow on this one mountain though not others nearby in 2010? In 2005? Never? (Mind you a new paper says fisheries will be rocked as “On average, the ToE of the deoxygenation signal in the mesopelagic zone is projected to emerge in 2021” if… we use RCP 8.5. So it’s here now, unless it’s not. But far too late to finish off that resort which, in any case, is open under new management.)

Still, let’s not nitpick. How bad is the snowfall crisis in the area now? Well, it turns out the actual town of West Windsor now gets a mere 76 inches of snow a year, doubtless baffling local children whenever it does fall in a thick white blanket every year. And a resort inexplicably located on nearby bare-dirty-rock Mt. Ascutney, home of the failed resort, boasts that “Alpine skiers have been thrilled about Ascutney’s varied terrain and friendly appeal for over 60 years” before inviting you to experience “8 trails/ 26 acres of skiable terrain for all ability levels/ a 450-foot vertical drop/ the longest run of 3100 feet.” Who are these fools to think you can ski there?

By the way, for non-skiers, “alpine” isn’t a creative climate-era alternative to “downhill” skiing. It is downhill skiing. And Wikipedia reports that one of Ascutney’s hated rivals, the cleverly named “Killington Mountain Resort & Ski Area” (see, it’s a mountain resort and ski area on Mt. Killington), “is the largest ski area in the eastern U.S., and has the largest vertical drop in New England at 3,050 feet (930 meters). Since 2013–14 ski season, it has been called the ‘Beast of the East.’” Not, be it noted, “the place there used to be snow”.

To be fair, in what the Times calls “the era of climate change”, Killington has a mere 155 runs, of which just 39% are black diamond, as part of a complex with only 21 lifts barely capable of taking 37,000 people up the mountain per hour to enjoy its feeble 10 feet of natural snow per year plus the artificial stuff. And if it sounds bleak, nearby Okerno Mountain Resort, rated “the Top US Family Snow Resort” by Parents Magazine back in 2010, is even smaller than Killington despite getting 16.6 feet of snow a year.

If you’re now thinking whoa, that’s too much snow, it’s also close to Mount Sunapee with just eight feet of the stuff. But it somehow maintains 66 runs, while a fourth local competitor, Stratton Mountain, has 99 runs and 15 feet of snow. As for poor doomed barren Ascutney it gets … what’s this? Over sixteen feet of snow a year? (And if you care about the global ski industry crisis, with CO2 skyrocketing, January temperatures in Germany have been falling since 1988, presumably melting the nearby Alps and ruining Austria’s ski industry too.)

If you’re not a skier you might be wondering what all the fuss is about. So are we, but for a different reason. We’re worried about the incredible failure of media outlets to check basic facts when peddling climate change. There isn’t the slightest indication that skiing in Vermont is in any kind of danger, nor that Mount Ascutney is not getting snow. Ottawa gets under six feet a year and it sometimes feels like a lot. They get nearly three times that.

The Times hallucinated the whole thing. Typically. This sort of story gets published nowadays without any sort of editorial oversight or scruples. The end of winter as we know it, unnoticed. And to think people sometimes doubt the urgency of the climate crisis.

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